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'If It's Football, It's Vital'

Robin Ends Plymouth's Pilgrimage

The financial rewards for attaining Champions League football and for staying in/ gaining promotion to the Premiership have become so lucrative, that the F.A. Cup has indefinitely been robbed of its appeal over the years. Nevertheless, Third Round day still has the indellible whiff of romance and with the Gunners long since out of the title race, the F.A. Cup has a municipal importance in N5 this year and that was reflected in Wenger's starting line up. Whilst Adebayor was allowed to perch on the bench with a cup of bovril, only Manuel Almunia was rested with Gael Clichy suffering a slight calf strain and Kolo Toure out with an inflamed groin (ooh err). Anyone notice how Toure and Gallas' injuries seem to conveniently overlap one another of late? The garrulous Gallas was once again overlooked for the armband and Robin van Persie took the captaincy. I must confess I thought Arsene would give it to Silvestre, but his laughable attempt at captaincy at Burnley is an experiment that should not be repeated.

The game began in a lively enough manner, whilst not narcotically compulsive viewing, a few early challenges from Pilgrims skipper Karl Duguid showed the visitors hadn't just come for Eboue's autograph. It took fifteen minutes for the home side to create their first chance, Eboue played a crisp one two with Nasri on the edge of the area but Larrieu beat away Eboue's left footed effort. An Arsenal corner was cleared to the edge of the box, Eboue worked the ball back in to the right hand side of the area where William Gallas was lurking, he controlled and shot from close range but Larrieu smartly closed the angle. The Gunners were forced into an early change when Kieran Gibbs had to replace the hamstrung Silvestre whilst Gallas raced down the tunnel, presumably to replace a contact lens. It was in this time of defensive flux that Plymouth created their best chance, the ball found Paul Gallagher on the edge of the area, the Blackburn loanee curled a dipping shot ominously towards the Arsenal goal but Fabianski was well positioned to help it over the bar. A yard either side and Plymouth might well have been celebrating. The away support were in good spirits and even found time for a chant of 'you dirty Northern bastards' following a foul by Ramsey which drew great mirth. Eboue once more had a low shot saved by Larrieu but the score at the break was deadlocked.

The home support was growing impatient due to no small hauteur on their part, Bendtner in particular was coming in for completely unfair flack, thousands of eyes boring into him, willing him to mess up to give them a reason to groan at their newly appointed chief whipping boy. At one point in the second half, he picked the ball up in the cnetre circle, looked around to see all Arsenal players ahead of himtightly marked, so he shifted it back to Gallas and was roundly hounded for the heinous crime of retaining possession. Football fans really depress me sometimes. The second half yielded a tactical shift with Bendtner moved to the right where the increased space suited him, Nasri was moved into a central position where he was allowed to roam and find space, whilst van Persie was deployed a few yards further forward in the central striker role. It earned instant dividends in the opening seconds of the second half, Nasri's corner was swung into the area where Robin van Persie was left in a country acre to head the ball into the roof of the net. Two minutes later, a rout appeared to be on the cards. Eboue trotted down the right with intent, before slipping the ball into the channel for the advanced van Persie, he brilliantly twisted Chris Barker before delivering a low cross which deflected into the net via Pilgrims debutant David Gray, despite Bendtner's best attempts to claim it.

But if the rest of the match should have been a mere procession, then Plymouth had other ideas. Luke Summerfield floated a free kick into the area which was not properly cleared, Gray comfortably skinned Kieran Gibbs before Karl Duguid got himself in front of the slumbering van Persie to slide the cross home and half the defecit. Though the ostentation and length of his subsequent celebration suggested the goal was considered a souvenir more than a genuine chance to force an unwanted replay. Arsenal could rest easy with four minutes left, the Gunners won the ball back in the final third, Samir Nasri, floating in his free role, picked the ball up and lifted it into the path of van Persie. The Dutch skipper tried to lob Larrieu but the French keeper got fingertips to it, but van Persie was on hand to lash the rebound in off the udnerside of the bar with his right foot with the ball rising. Nasri's deflected shot looped onto the bar in injury time, but a fourth would perhaps have been harsh on the visitors whose application was admirable throughout. You've the feeling that if they put that sort of effort into every game, they would be sitting higher than 15th in the Championship. In the end, we got the job done professionally and deservedly go through to the 4th Round, big spenders Manchester City and Chelsea cannot say the same this morning. Plymouth are a side used to more austere surroundings than those they played in yesterday but did not look intimidated, the seriousness with which we took the game suggests Arsene realises, like most of us, that the title chase is up and has been for some time. Still, I'm hoping for Kettering away in the next round.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday January 4 2009

Time: 12:00PM

Your Comments

As you say we got the job done. Following the Portsmouth game it has allowed us to see Nasri playing in a free role and just how effective that is. We have seen how effective RvP can be playing as the central striker before. Playing both together in those roles looks promising. It's something we should persevere rather than the recent overdependence on long balls and hopeful crosses trying to find Ade. Getting the shape right around them might be difficult though.
I like it a lot. But the main problem is the lack of cover for Nasri on the left. Bring in a left midfielder and we will be buzzing. But it is a shame that we look better within that formation without Adebayor. I would like to see him fit in somewhere but van Persie is the choice whenever you choose one or the other.
I recall van Persie playing as a lone striker away at Bolton in the Cup three years ago when we were very unfortunate to lose. He had an excellent game, he does not have the physical attributes of Adebayor- though he is not weak. But he knows exactly how to use his body to shield the ball, as evidenced with the second goal. In the same manner, you could see him drawing a lot of penalties in the area.
Little Dutch
I agree. The 4-4-1-1 looks our best formation, with Diaby doing well just behind the striker on a couple of occassions. In fact, even last season, we looked our best with this formation. Without Ade, we dont seem to be punting on a continuous stream of long balls. This team needs to learn to take a few shots from outside the box, something that was a problem 2 seasons back but which improved last season, only to regress again this time. Overall, we looked rarely in trouble and I'm quite happy with the performance.
Defenders find it easier to play RvP outside the box. Because he is often looking to turn 180 degrees or more he plays with his weight forward and his head over the ball when shielding it. It doesn't take much to knock him over even if he might be a little inclined, as most are, to go over anyway. It is much riskier to play quite so tight when he is in the box which gives him a few nano seconds more to get a shot in.
Again, I think there was an incident in the second half when Nasri put a through ball which was slightly overcooked, but van Persie was just able to connect, albeit not powerfully enough. Had that occurred outside the box a) he would not have been in shooting range and b) the defender would be more inclined to block him off.
Little Dutch
No mention of the random sombreros handed out in the red section.
What happens with Adebayor then? Sub?
RvP won't play in every game. He was rested against Portsmouth so there may still be some concern about fragility. There are games when Ade does work, and work well, but I think the formula has been overplayed plus he suffers more than most from the loss of the creative elements like Hleb and Rosicky that offered us something different last season. The lack of creativity this season has led to Cesc playing a longer game to accommodate both Walcott and to some extent Ades more limited strengths. We need to find that extra creativity from somewhere but retaining the option to vary our game as the situation demands would give us the best chance of success. We are still searching for that elusive ideal balance.
Imagine that formation with Fabregas i the middle as well...... DRIBBLE!
cardiff away for the 4th round
fran merida
Not happy with that at all, not a nice place to visit for away supporters.
Little Dutch
I have a strange knack of knowing when Arsenal are going to be pulled out of the hat. I watched the draw (no, I haven't had much to do today) and as soon as Cardiff was pulled out I knew it would be us. I did it for Roma too. That's my self-admiration over. (did I mention I guessed right in last years CL draw too?)
How many goals has RvP scored with his right foot and head this term? Must have been almost 10, almost 50%?! You can just tell he's put a lot of work into practising his 'chocolate foot' and maybe 'chocolate head' eh?
Even the great Henry missed chances, especially in cup finals! I think its time to put this notion of RVP being profligate in front of goal to rest.
nasri rvp connection looks good keep it up
iceman, I agree that some people overdo the idea that RvP wastes too many chances. However, it is fair to say that it could be worked on. As you say, even Henry missed some chances, the style of his play was very different and I don't think too many comparisons can be made. It's just that its so clear to see that RvP has such good technique that we expect him to score at every opportunity. I remember after he had a penalty saved against Man City last season he said 'with my technique, I should never miss'. This is what is understandable, but frustrating, and his composure should be improved to get the most out of having such technique. It's the difference between a world-class striker and a world-beating one (excuse the annoying cliche).
a good professional like that in the league and you would be higher than you are now.....
the second goal was given to Brendtner, good on the lad although replays proved inconclusive the "dubious goals" panel decided it was his!

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